Monday, August 30, 2010

Cocktails and a million-dollar view in Cebu

I arrived in Cebu yesterday afternoon on a Philippine Airlines flight from Manila, together with some of the Travelife team to check out what was new in the southern capital. I hadn't been to Cebu in a few years and so I was quite excited to be back. This particular trip started out pretty well, too. Our PAL flight was on time and pleasant, and we were in Cebu in just under an hour. This flight was a good reminder of how painless it is to travel between these two major points in the Philippines. In fact, it's just like taking a luxury bus.

At the PAL domestic terminal in Manila, I checked in about an hour before my flight; and I barely had time to grab a cinnamon roll from one of the food counters and answer some texts, and then it was time to board the flight. On the plane, I took out my Mac a few minutes after takeoff to work on articles for the next issue -- but again, before I knew it, we were making our descent into Mactan International Airport and Cebu City was in the distance.

Thank goodness for Facebook

While waiting to board my flight in Manila, I was trying -- with no success -- to find a wireless connection, when a text came in on my phone from my friend Gia, who lives in Manila but also has a home in Cebu. She was in Cebu and she'd just spent the weekend at the beach with friends. At that exact moment, she was checking Facebook on her mobile while having lunch at the country club.

"Are you in Cebu?" She texted.

I quickly texted back. "I'm leaving for Cebu in a few minutes!"

Well, it turns out that she had seen our post on Facebook -- about how the Travelife team was on their way to Cebu that day -- and she too was in Cebu for the long weekend. We ended up making plans to meet later that day in Cebu, all by text and all before I boarded my flight.

The most beautiful view in Cebu

We arrived at our hotel just after 4 PM and had just enough time to freshen up and dress for the evening. At 530 PM, Gia was at our hotel to pick us up. We were supposed to go to dinner but she suggested first visiting her mother-in-law's house on top of a mountain. "It's got a beautiful view of Cebu that's best seen at sunset," she explained. Of course, we were just too happy to go anywhere a local suggested.

Well, we were completely floored by the view, the lovely house that was sprawling but not uncomfortably large, and filled with beautiful antiques, porcelain and wood furnishings. And perhaps the best feature of this dream house was its huge terrace -- an expanse of tile that ran the entire length of the house, fronting the most amazing 180 degree view of Cebu. In the distance, I could see the entire downtown, the old Cebu Plaza Hotel, the Marriott Hotel, the Waterfront Hotel, and as far as the harbor.

On the right side was a gazebo with a small table that probably functioned as a breakfast nook or a place for afternoon tea, and right in the middle was a massive wooden table good for 16 to 20 people. The moment I saw the table, I was already imagining what I would do if I actually owned that house: I'd be hosting the most enjoyable dinners every Saturday night -- casual food, a couple of bottles of great wine, good friends, and this fantastic al fresco dining with a million-dollar view in front of us.

"This is the perfect place for New Year's Eve," Gia said. "You can see all the fireworks from up high."

A great place to live

Then we sat around for a few minutes, relaxing over wine, cold cuts and cheese -- and working up an(other) appetite for dinner. I was enjoying so much this impromptu plan Gia and I had hatched up in a few minutes earlier that afternoon that "Cebu life is certainly very nice," was all I could manage to say. This was of course an understatement. Cebu life was not only very nice - it was great. Fresh air, the comforts of civilization, no traffic, everything within easy distance, and a lower cost of living than Manila.

There's also something incredibly relaxing about Cebu. We felt it the moment we stepped off the plane. The openness is so refreshing after the built-up atmosphere of Manila, the people are so laid back, and the fact that both the mountains and the beach houses are within very easy driving distance is a great plus. "Going to the beach is SOP here," Gia said. "Everyone I know has a beach house somewhere, if not two." No wonder so many people move to Cebu and never want to leave.

For dinner proper, we drove down the mountain and headed to Guiseppe, a favorite Italian restaurant of locals, right on the way to the Maria Luisa subdivision. When we walked in, it felt just like going to a restaurant in Makati. Gia knew lots of people and everyone was greeting each other. It felt like having dinner somewhere in Greenbelt. Of course, this being the Philippines, with its two degrees of separation between people, even I found common friends with the Cebuanos I met that night. And when it was time to order, I didn't even bother to look at the menu.

"We're in your hands," I told Gia.

What a wonderful spur-of-the-moment evening with good friends from Manila, new friends in Cebu and the Travelife Magazine team.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fat Women at Ayala Museum

Last Friday night, I braved the rains and traffic in Makati to head over to the Ayala Museum for the opening party of the sculptor Daniel de la Cruz on the third floor. I'd known Daniel since his high school days at La Salle Greenhills and we'd kept in touch in college. After graduation, however, I didn't see him again until some months back at -- coincidentally -- the opening party of another talented young artist, also at the Ayala Museum.

We hadn't been in touch for years, but I'd heard about Daniel's success as an artist via common friends, and had seen an article or two about him in the papers. In fact, I still remember very clearly the first time I saw an article about Daniel in the newspapers. It described him as a talented sculptor with an avid following. I had to re-read the article several times just to determine whether this was indeed the Daniel de la Cruz I knew - Daniel had never really shown an inkling for the arts when we were all growing up. Or perhaps I just hadn't noticed?

Anyway, I was really happy to be in touch with him again after so long -- and when he invited me to his opening, I made sure I cleared my schedule for this momentous event.

Frankly speaking, I went to the Ayala Museum to show my support for him as an old friend. I'd heard he was talented and some friends passionately collected his works -- many of them are priced in the high six-figures, by the way -- and actually engage in a bit of a tussle to get first dibs on his best pieces. But, as an old friend, I would have gone to the exhibit anyway, even if he had just pounded a couple of nails into a tin can and called this art. When you've known the artist for decades, it isn't really about the art but about friendship. You get the picture, don't you?

Wonder and amazement

So I was completely unprepared for the wonder and amazement I experienced upon seeing his fairly large, intricate, intriguing and skillfully made metal sculptures. They were all grouped in one room together, like dancers in motion. And the energy and vitality conveyed by these sculptures of robust and charming women in all sorts of poses just jumped out at me the moment I entered. I was instantly enamoured -- to the point that I was already visualizing having one of his pieces in my foyer.

Botero draws me a postcard

After going through the exhibit, I was reminded of the paintings and sculptures of rotund men and women by the internationally-acclaimed Colombian artist Fernando Botero, who'd once exhibited at the Ebisu Garden Place in Tokyo and I'd met Botero himself at the opening party. I'd admired his works ever since I had seen his portrayals of fat people lining the avenues of Madrid one summer some years back. When asked about his penchant for the obese in his works, he is supposed to have said: "An artist is attracted to certain kinds of forms without knowing why." Anyway, coming face to face with him at a cocktail party in Tokyo in his honor, of course I wanted his autograph. I dug into my bag for a postcard and a sign pen and approached the artist with my request.

To my joy, Botero did not just sign his name on the postcard. He drew a dove with a flower and inscribed my name before signing his "work" with a flourish. I still have this postcard.

A positive attitude towards struggle

Crafted by hand and made from mixed metals, Daniel’s sculptures are exhibited under the theme “Precipice,” which he says reflects man’s struggles as he reaches a point in life when he is faced by a wide chasm. But he also stresses that his is a positive stance in the face of utter despair. Daniel explains: “The exhibit takes a careful glimpse at that precarious point—that singular moment in time in our individual lives when we come face-to-face with our own weaknesses and limitations—indeed, our own mortality. We may choose to back away from where we are or go forth and make a leap of faith into the unknown.”

He added, “We may totter and stumble, and indeed, fall, as we face imminent danger. But like metal—the most malleable of all primal materials—we can roll with the punches, take the blows, and emerge from the fall transformed, renewed and rendered more beautifully.”


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Girls' Night Out at Hyatt's Li Li

Last night, in the mood for Chinese roast duck and Chinese-style noodles, the girls of Travelife Magazine drove to Manila for a "Girls' Night Out" at Li Li, Hyatt Regency Manila's lovely Chinese restaurant, which also happens to be one of my favorite dining spots. It serves very good, authentic Cantonese food (cooked by a Hong Kong chef married to a Filipina) and also has tasteful decor. I also like the fact that at Li Li, even with a full house, you never feel cramped with too many people and you never have to worry about whether someone else might overhear your conversation.

Well, the Travelife team works in Makati so the drive over to Manila during rush-hour traffic is not inconsiderable, but we all felt that a dinner at LiLi would be worth it. Surprisingly, it didn't take as long as we expected. We left Legazpi Village just before 7 pm and we were pulling into Hyatt's driveway in just under 20 minutes.

There just happened to be a wine dinner hosted by the distributors of the Chilean wine Montes Alpha at the same time, so we were even invited by Hyatt General Manager Anthony Sebastian to have a few drinks. As it was 8 pm, though, we had a glass of Montes Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2009, a crisp and fruity wine with yellow-green color, and then immediately went on to dinner.

I firmly have my favorite dishes at Li Li including the Peking duck done two ways, the spinach soup with seafood, and their steamed fish fllet with double boiled soy sauce. However, last night, I decided to refrain from ordering "the usual" and just ask the chef to serve us his recommendations. We were not disappointed. Appetizers consisted of tiny plates of crispy and spicy deep-fried enoki mushrooms plus cubes of sauteed beef and very crispy pork slices -- all sinfully deadly and just too delicious to pass up. I especially could not resist the enoki mushrooms, and found myself eating plateful upon plateful while talking. Before I realized it, I had gone through three plates!

What came after was a nine-course lauriat that left us completely stuffed. Every course was delicious but I especially liked the chunky hot and sour soup full of bits of seafood like scallops and fish; the steamed cod fish with crispy minced bean paste, which had tender but firm meat that was very delicately spiced; the fried rice with diced chicken and salted fish; and a new dessert at Li Li: a mango pudding with mango coulis and sesame tuile.

The mango dessert gave the usual mango-sago dessert often found at Chinese restaurants a whole new twist. It was served to us on a wagon by a waiter who scooped cream and chunks of mango onto the mango pudding in the glass and then added the crunchy sesame coulis on top. The mango pudding itself was very firm and the sesame provided added texture.

"Do you like our new dessert?" Anthony Sebastian asked, coming over to say hello again after his own wine dinner event in the same restaurant. We all loved it. In fact, Eunice, our editorial assistant, could not get enough of it. "It's even better than eating ice cream," she exclaimed repeatedly. We would have had seconds if we had had more time and enough space.

The Travelife girls ended up staying until close till midnight, talking and laughing over all sorts of subjects including an upcoming trip to Cebu, a coming photo shoot in Hong Kong, and various misadventures. A great evening of bonding! And it certainly helped that Li Li's food was just too good to resist. The finishing touch to a truly wonderful Chinese dinner was a plate of freshly-made chocolates with Earl Grey ganache which the hotel's executive chef himself brought out. He'd probably heard our clamors for more sweets!

Travelife Magazine's Girls' Night Out
at Hyatt Regency Manila's Li Li Chinese Restaurant
August 25, 2010

Crispy deep fried enoki mushrooms
Selection of Chinese appetizers
Hot and sour soup with assorted seafood
Charcoal roasted "Pipa Duck"
Wok-baked prawns with onion, spring onion and scallion
Steamed cod fish with crispy minced bean paste
Fried rice with diced chicken and salted fish
Braised Taiwan vegetables and abalone mushrooms
Spinach noodle soup with shrimp dumplings
Mango pudding, mango coulis, sesame tuile
Chinese pastries


Monday, August 23, 2010

Great Cultural Show at the Manila Hotel

Last night, I was at -- of all places -- the Manila Hotel to watch the inaugural performance of the Romansa! Show that will be ongoing at the hotel's historic Maynila Ballroom until September 4. I say "of all places" because of the most unfortunate hostage drama that took place within the same vicinity also last night.

However, the Romansa! Show that I went to see was far from that. Frankly, I had not very big expectations of a Philippine cultural show -- primarily because I've seen so few I truly appreciated. But this particular show last night was very enjoyable. If you have ever wanted to see some wonderful Philippine dances, particularly from the Mindanao region, you should definitely watch this. And if you happen to have foreign friends in town over the next 10 days or so, you should definitely take them to see this show.

Getting to Roxas Boulevard from Makati was unusually easy, and of course later I realized why. When I reached the hotel, I could see a swarm of patrol cars and media vans at the very end, towards Ocean Park. The hostage crisis concerning the Hong Kong tourists was ongoing just a few dozen meters from where I stood. I arrived at around 7 pm so there wasn't much violent commotion in the area and everything was more of a wait-and-see attitude. This gave me a sense of complacency and made me think that negotiations would eventually succeed and everything would somehow be all right. How wrong I was!

Business as usual

There was a hostage crisis just outside, but nevertheless, inside the hotel, everything was professional and business as usual. The only allusion to the crisis came at the end of the show, when after a series of loud bangs outside dulled by the music of the show inside, the Manila Hotel general manager Leon Keekstra came up to my party with a grim face and said, "They've stormed the bus and some of the hostages are dead." We were all in shock at this awful news.

What a terrible day for the families of the Hong Kong tourists, for all Filipinos, for all tourists, and for business connected with the local tourist industry -- especially with such a senseless act involving people completely unrelated to the problem of the hostage taker.

Ironically, the show we watched that evening was geared towards foreigners visiting the Philippines who may wish to see some authentic Philippine culture. And what a wonderful show it was! The Manila Hotel has put on a truly worthwhile show -- about 45 minutes to one hour long -- of songs and dances from different parts of the Philippines, but all geared towards romance. The costumes were intricately and gracefully done and very colorful, and many were the types of Filipiniana dress I had never seen before.

Beautiful singing by a couple in love

Romansa! was basically conceptualized as a nightly stage musical that conveys the heartwarming love story of two star-crossed lovers: a city boy and a country girl—who crossed paths and fell deeply in love. 19-year old soprano Fame Flores, who was trained by New York Metropolitan Opera singer Evelyn Mandac, sings the lead while the part of the boy in love is played by R & B Master Brenan Espartinez.

Fame's and Brenan's powerful voices, singing OPM, bring to life a tapestry of cotemporary favorites combined with cultural dances like the Pandanggo sa Ilaw, the Pamaypay ng Maynila, the Enganyosa, the Panderetas de Amor and the Karasuguyon.

Dances from every region of the Philippines

Pandanggo Sa Ilaw
A popular native dance using candle lights.

Pamaypay Ng Maynila (Fan of Manila)
A song and dance depicting the many messages a girl may impart to her suitor through the use of her fan.

Enganyosa (Dance of Beguiling)
A dance of the Philippine/Spanish aristocracy in which the ladies in their ballroom attire take center stage.

This T’boli tribal dance from Lake Sebu in South Cotabato province shows a single warrior selecting his bride from a family of sisters.

Panderetas de Amor (Tambourines of Love)
A dance from the Visayas that makes use of tambourines.

Pangalay Sa Agong (Movements of the Gongs)
A traditional dance from the Tausog Tribe of Mindanao where two warriors vie for the affection of a single maiden.

A six-part mini-musical

The musical is divided into six major parts that depict the progression of love in real life: meeting, courtship, coming to an understanding, getting into a misunderstanding, reconciling, and making the promise of forever -- complete with love songs composed by Gary Valenciano. It's a very visual and romantic show that portrays the eclectic and colorful romance between the East and the West, the countryside and the city, the traditional and the trendy. It ends with the majestic Singkil Dance, the Muslim wedding dance of Mindanao, which is performed by the Sindaw Philippines Performing Arts Guild accompanied by live percussionists and gong players. Musical Direction is by ABS-CBN’s Pinoy Dream Academy Musical Director Monet Silvestre.

The team marveled at this musical and dance display. We tried to think among ourselves if we had ever seen such a show available to the public on a regular basis -- we couldn't think of one in the past and there was certainly no such show ongoing right now, save for this one at the Manila Hotel. Later on, I told Leon: "This is a great cultural show that anyone would be delighted to see. I hope you find a way to bring ambassadors and other diplomats over so that they can see for themselves the rich culture of the Philippines."

Down memory lane at Strumm's

The evening didn't quite end there either. After the Romansa! show at the Manila Hotel, it was on to Strumm's in Makati to join some friends who were celebrating the 8th year anniversary of 8 Track, a very good band that plays 80s music every Monday, bringing a whole lot of people back to their good old college days. Again, what a night it was. The place was full with an SRO crowd and the band was in great form. Cita Revilla, Louie Ocampo and Bayani Fernando even went onstage to jam with the group.

I got home at 1 AM, frankly exhausted. Most everyone else, I learned, were still up and dancing way past 2 AM. But, for me, halfway through the last set, I just felt I had enjoyed just enough traditional and 80s music for the night.

* * *

The cultural shows are priced at P1,650 for the lunch show and P1,950 for the dinner show per person. For more information please call the Manila Hotel at 5270011 local 7.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Bid for Hope for Gawad Kalinga

If Beliz Balkir-Crook had the right lever, she would move mountains.
It’s a moot point if the strong-willed, clear-of-vision and purposeful
Turkish national (and wife of The Peninsula Manila’s General Manager Jonathan Crook) spent the 30-something years of her life looking for that lever because, recently allied with Gawad Kalinga (GK) and Travelife Magazine, she now has it firmly in her grasp. And she will be using it to move as many mountains as she can.

The obstacles are difficult, to say the least: poverty, limited efforts at community building, and the distance of little-regarded communities in Mindanao. But by uniting disparate sectors of Philippine society under the first Annual Gawad Kalinga Hope Ball, she seeks to tap generally disinterested sectors and individuals for something more than donations and fundraising: nation building. We get to speak to Beliz Crook, Chairperson of the GK Hope Ball, and Travelife Magazine EIC Christine Cunanan, the ball’s vice chairperson, who are spearheading this remarkable effort; and learn why the GK Ball, as it is succinctly known, is worth everybody’s time. Yes, even yours.

Give us a background on Beliz Balkir.
Beliz Balkir-Crook: I come from a family with very strong values. Both my parents are working; my mother is an academician and my father is a civil engineer. My mother was involved full-time in politics, which meant
she was mostly traveling, working late hours, attending events, and making speeches. Looking back, we always had either my mother or my father there for us. I can confidently say that my brother and I we were raised with much love and constant family support. We were always encouraged to stand on our own feet, and we were taught early to be responsible for our actions and learn from our mistakes. Believe me, I made a lot of mistakes!

At 19, I left Turkey for college in the US. I graduated and took the difficult path by staying there, getting a job, and paying rent. I remember I couldn’t wait to get paid: my rent was over half of my pay! Looking back however, it’s that sense of achievement that made every tough day I went through worth it; from almost calling my parents for help but then forcing myself to face the obstacles on my own. These I believe are experiences that made me who I am today. I am forever thankful to my parents for giving me the opportunity to find myself.

What is the GK Ball all about?
BBC: The first Gawad Kalinga Hope Ball is a nation-building ball. For the first time, the GK Hope Ball will bring together the diverse sectors within the Philippines to create something more important than history, and that is hope. We are seeking to join Manila’s elite to raise support and build holistic communities through GK’s Holistic Development Program in Mindanao. We want this event to begin the process of building a bridge of understanding and friendship between the Philippines’ wide spectrum of communities, and channel it into something productive.

That’s quite cutting-edge! What inspired you to conceptualize this event?
BBC: I wanted to do something with GK that was going to make an impact. I know of GK’s commitment for this country. Their dedication, passion, vision, and most importantly their love for this beautiful country has already contributed to changing so many lives; to me it is just impossible not be part of this rewarding journey to build a nation and end poverty. With the confidence of having my husband’s support and knowing Peninsula’s strong philosophy of giving back to the community where they have a hotel, I decided on an over-the-top, red carpet, triple A crowd, fundraising ball, with never-seen-before live auction items at the Peninsula.

The GK Hope Ball will be on October 8, 2010. This is incidentally the first big opportunity for GK to reach out to the Philippines’ elite in this capacity.

Is the GK Ball just another fundraising?
BBC: By uniting Philippines’ elite, influential and major corporate players in such a historical project, we are hoping this will be the start of the means for a better future for our brothers and sisters in the Southern Philippines.

This is a ball about nation-building, not just fundraising. This is part of a very big healing process for the country. We want to increase our presence in the Sulu area in Mindanao. By doing so, we will help reinforce the new culture of caring and sharing that will further build relationships and long lasting peace.

And who is the primary beneficiary?
BBC: We are going to build holistic communities is Sulu. I am saying holistic as this entails community empowerment and values formation, infrastructure, community health programs, food sufficiency, child and youth development programs, environment and productivity programs. These, in return, are meant to affect greater areas and surrounding communities.

Why Sulu?
BBC: GK has already built smaller communities in different municipalities in Sulu. Their peaceful and well-meaning developments have earned them strong goodwill in the area. GK currently has land donated in Sulu and would like to continue to empower the surrounding communities.

This will strengthen the GK movement in Sulu by increasing our team of community organizers, teachers, and other caretakers who will manage and ensure sustainability of all existing GK communities and build new ones.

So it’s meant to involve sectors and individuals who normally wouldn’t be able to pitch in with GK. Your thoughts on this?
BBC: I believe Philippines is one of the most giving countries to its people. Every sector or individual, in their own capacity, is involved in helping the nation’s poor. In GK, we are all here to make a difference in building a nation and bringing hope to a loving and most deserving country. We are
very committed and passionate in what we do. In the process, if we can influence people and have them join our cause, I think that will already accomplished a lot. Sometimes all it takes is for the right door to open, and we just walk through and begin our journey. I hope that with this project we are going to open many doors. This is not a question about being pro-GK advocate or for another foundation; this is about Filipinos helping other Filipinos.

Who are some of the entities and individuals working with you?
BBC: I am the Annual GK Hope Ball’s chair, and my dear friend Christine Cunanan is vice-chair. She has been very supportive of all my GK activities and other humanitarian work. I couldn’t imagine partnering with anyone else but her on this project. We had many occasions when things got very challenging, among the biggest sometimes are the cultural differences. She has taught me to be patient, to learn the right ways of
doing business in the Philippines. Of course as GK Hope Ball honorary chairman, we have our father Tony Meloto, who has attended every meeting that he has been invited to. He is a true inspiration, and a person with such endless vision and a great sense of humor. He truly amazes me! There is also, of course, Eena Meloto, our executive coordinator, who is also in charge of marketing. In charge of auctions are Wee Ramas-Sullano and Johanna Chuaunsu, and for finance we have Rose Cabrera. Heading Production is Pinky Antonio, while the Secretariat is chaired by Aurora Pijuan. We also have on board Rustan’s as a co-founding sponsor, and Weber Shandwick and Crown Fine Arts, among many others.

This is a ball about nation-building, not just fundraising. This is part of a very big healing process for the country

At this early stage, will you tell us some of the items for auction?
BBC: I cannot tell you how generous and excited everyone is to be part of this legacy. Saying that, the goods we are seeking are items with legacies themselves, items that will be cherished for generations. We have a painting exclusively commissioned and donated for the ball by Betsy Westendorp, and signed gloves and jerseys from boxing champion—and Congressman Manny Pacquiao.

Why did Travelife Magazine decide to become involved in the GK Ball?
Christine Cunanan: The Travelife Magazine team strongly believes in the philosophies of GK regarding empowering communities and rising above differences towards true nation building. This is especially important right now. And the GK Hope Ball is the perfect venue for Travelife to become involved in this high-profile event that merges these two GK philosophies with Travelife’s core principle of helping to enrich one’s quality of life through travel and involvement in communities near and far. Having enjoyed many blessings that have helped make us the leading travel and lifestyle publication in the Philippines, we feel this is the best way we can give back to the community.

Will Travelife continue to be involved in GK projects?
CC: We’ve met and gotten to know the key persons behind GK and we admire and respect each one for their dedication and true commitment to helping others. We would certainly like to continue to be involved with GK in various capacities. One very concrete way that ties in with our expertise in travel and journalism is to partner with GK and help them promote their idea of organizing immersion stays for local and foreign youths in GK communities. Through these immersions, young people can learn more about these empowered communities and donate some of their time and effort to concrete activities to help these communities. This is an alternative
form of travel that can be extremely enriching for young people, that Travelife Magazine fully supports.

This interview appears in the August-September 2010 issue of Travelife Magazine.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Chilean wines with Wagyu steak at Lolo Dad's

"A love for travel often comes with a love for good food and wine," I said tonight over dinner at Lolo Dad's Brasserie in Makati.

"Do you really think so?" Someone at my table asked. I nodded. At Travelife Magazine, we have so many readers who love to travel and who also love to eat -- and who also appreciate wine. Many of our contributors, too, write with passion about fantastic dining experiences all over the world. In previous issues, we've had great stories about trips to food markets in Europe, a quest for curries in northern Thailand, and -- in this current August-September 2010 issue -- the experience of eating the best sushi in the world. (Just in case you're wondering where that is, check out our latest issue at the newsstands...)

I'd just returned to Manila from Tokyo on Thursday and for tonight I'd accepted an invitation to join a wine-and-food pairing event involving Concha y Toro wines from Chile and a four-course dinner created by Chef Ariel Manuel especially for the occassion. Concha y Toro is perhaps Chile's largest and best-known wine producer, with a wide variety of wines ranging from inexpensive table wines like Sunrise and Fonterra to high-end premium wines like the Don Melchor and Carmenere wines that are still good value compared to quality Old World wines, but that would be considered pricey for South American wines.

I didn't think I'd know anyone except for one of the organizers, but I'd gamely agreed to attend anyway simply because it seemed like fun. Fortunately, when I walked in, I was shown to a table at the corner of the room, and already standing there was Hugo, Hugo, Minister of the South African Embassy and an old friend. We were to sit together at the table of the hosts, Lucio Cochanco Jr. and Philip Opiasa of Fly Ace Company.

"Long-time no-see," I teased him. We'd just seen each other 24 hours earlier, when -- fresh off the plane -- I'd gone straight to the National Day reception of the Embassy of Indonesia at the Shangri-la Makati. I saw him immediately upon arrival, and had had the pleasure of being introduced to the new lady Ambassador of South Africa, dressed in a beautiful black dress with vibrant colors all over, who'd just presented her credentials at Malacanan last week.

Chardonnay and scallops

We began dinner with a chardonnay from the Marques de Casa Concha 2007 line, which had so much lemon flavor that I just couldn't wait to have a bite of seafood to go with it. Fortunately, we were served chilled scallops and shrimps with marinated salmon and mango quenelle as the appetizer. "It's an in-your-face type of wine," explained our hosts. The touch of lemon in the marinated salmon went especially well with the slight sour-saltiness in the chardonnay.

Our next course was a roasted Muscovy Duck breast with seared duck foie gras and a wonderful pastry puff filled with an asado of duck leg. The merlot from the same line that was served with it had a very solid texture and a heavy feel that I felt would have been just as good with more simple food such as a plate of cheese.

Cab Sauv with Wagyu

The piece de resistance, however, was the main course of a roast wagyu rib-eye coupled with stewed beef cheeks and a potato puree. Having just returned from Tokyo, where I'd had lots of wagyu, I guessed that this was an Australian wagyu rather than a Japanese wagyu because it was meaty and had very little fat on it. Meanwhile, the Japanese version usually has so much fat that you have to eat it with some kind of sauce, if you are to finish an entire steak at all. Otherwise, it's just too rich in taste and best eaten in small portions. Our wagyu entree, too, went excellently with the red wine selected, a cabernet sauvignon.

Dark chocolate and red wine

"The best wine is still to come," Lucio warned us. He was referring to the Carmenere, also of the Marques de Concha 2007 line, and incidentally a great favorite of his. "Sometime I just have this with some cheese, when I'm at home," he revealed. Well, that night, we enjoyed the Carmenere with a sinfully rich dark Valrhona chocolate and shaved almond terrine and a tiny scoop of vanilla almond ice cream.

The Carmenere was indeed lovely, and our waiter was not shy with refills. "Thank goodness it's a Friday night," I said. I didn't count how many glasses I had had, but I had a feeling they were bordering on plenty. And on that sweet note and with that lovely wine, I excused myself and headed home thinking: "What a great way to start the weekend."


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Join this Once-in-a-Lifetime Trip to Turkey

In commemoration of its third year anniversary, TRAVELIFE MAGAZINE and award-winning Turkish Airlines, with the cooperation of Philippine Airlines, are offering a one-week, all-inclusive tour to Turkey at a price impossible to match elsewhere for this quality.

There are regular tours, and there is the kind of non-commercial tour arranged by Travelife Magazine, the Philippines' leading travel and lifestyle publication, simply because we want our readers, FB fans and friends to experience the joys of travel and the magic of Turkey in the same way we have done.

Five-star hotels, all the major sights,
most meals, enough free time

This tour will cover the major sights in Istanbul and the Izmir so that you won't leave Turkey feeling you didn't see enough of it; while at the same time leaving you with free time to do what pleases you -- whether it's shopping at the bazaar, visiting the museum, or just hanging out in one of Istanbul's quaint cafes for some apple tea. You'll also be staying at quality five-star hotels that are actually in the city center -- you won't just be driven into the city to see the sights.

This is especially important in Istanbul, where we're sure you'd like to maximize your short stay and free time by avoiding travel time and being right in the Old Town. This way, you can walk around the town on a free night, return to the Grand Bazaar on your free afternoon, or even just skip one day's tours and wander around on your own. Visit the Istanbul Modern, watch the fishermen along Galata Bridge, or take a boat ride on the beautiful Bosphorus. All these are walking distance from the hotel.

We decided to talk to Turkish Airlines and the Turkish Embassy about organizing a trip to Turkey after having such a fabulous time there in June. Turkey is just too amazing to keep to ourselves. Fortunately, all parties agreed. The Turkish Ambassador has even very kindly agreed to host a meeting for tour participants prior to departure, to meet everyone and literally talk Turkey.

Your kind of non-commercial tour

No one's making any money on this tour, in case you're wondering. In particular, Travelife Magazine, Turkish Airlines and our land operators in Istanbul all just want to give Travelife readers and friends a great time in a fantastic country. We could've had a party to celebrate our third (successful) year in business -- but instead we decided to help organize a charity ball for Gawad Kalinga (GK) and to offer this very special tour of Turkey at an incredible price.

We guarantee you will not get this value for this price anywhere. This is a tour we ourselves want to go on (in fact, we'll be going along), these are places we loved and want you to see. This is our own way of thanking you, dear readers, friends and fans, for your invaluable support for Travelife Magazine -- and for helping make us the country's leading travel and lifestyle publication. Yes, we're very grateful for your wonderful support and we're that passionate about travel, and about sharing the experience of travel.

November 13-20, 2010 (40 pax)
November 17-24, 2010 (40 pax)

Visit the amazing city of Istanbul,
the Virgin Mary’s house at Ephesus,
and the historical sights around Izmir.

Included in the price:

*Roundtrip international flights to and from Turkey
*Roundtrip domestic flights between Istanbul and Izmir
*Five-star hotel accommodations on a twin-sharing basis
*All guided tours
*Daily buffet breakfasts
*Three-course lunches and dinners
*All porterage fees in Turkey
*All entrance fees and guided tours listed below
*Private sunset cruise and dinner along the Bosphorus

Note: Most sights will involve moderate walking so please bring comfortable walking shoes and warm clothing. Daily attire is casual and the weather in November can be cold and ocassionally rainy, so please bring jackets for daytime and evening.


In ISTANBUL, visit the following places:

The Sultan Ahmet Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque) is a superb creation in the classical Ottoman style, with six towering minarets and 260 windows illuminating its vast main chamber, which is decorated with more than 20,000 Iznik tiles.

The largest and oldest palace in the world, Topkapi is the crown jewel of the Ottoman Empire, featuring a harem, treasury and exotic buildings overlooking the Golden Horn.

Built in 1660 with the taxes collected from the trade of Egyptian herbs and spices, the exotically domed bazaar is filled with the enticing aromas of cinnamon, caraway, saffron, mint and thyme.

In operation since the 14th century, the Grand Bazaar is one of the world's largest covered markets, with 58 streets and over 4,000 shops. The bazaar is specially known for its jewelry, leather, pottery, spices and carpets.

One of the finest and largest architectural works of art in the world. This former basilica and mosque -- it became a mosque in 1453 -- is now the Saint Sophia Museum, and it’s often called the 8th wonder of the world. Considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture, the Aya Sofia was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the Seville Cathedral in Spain was completed in 1520.

The Mosque of Soleman the Magnificent is the biggest and the most exquisite of the Ottoman mosques in Istanbul. If the Mosque of Soleman the Magnificent is not available for a visit because of a religious day, you will visit instead the Rustem Pahsa Mosque, known for its vivid display of Iznic tiles.

Istanbul's Byzantine Hippodrome was the heart of Constantinople's political and sporting life, and the scene of games and riots through 500 years of Ottoman history. Monuments decorating the Hippodrome include the 3500-year-old Egyptian granite Obelisk of Theodosius, brought to Constantinople by Emperor Theodosius in 390 AD.

Dolmabahce Palace was the last residence of the Ottoman sultans, and is famous for its impressive collection of European antiques, furniture and a massive chandelier given to the sultan by Queen Victoria. The enormous palace has 365 rooms, one for every day of the year, and 22 saloons.

Beylerbeyi Palace was constructed in the 1860s by Sarkis Balyan, a famous Armenian architect. Beylerbeyi is the largest and most elegant Ottoman palace, located right by the Bosphorus Bridge and the waterfront, on the Asian side of Istanbul. Our visit here will enable you to cross back and forth between Asia and Europe in a matter of hours!

A major shopping, tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops and hotels. It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul, and is the location of the Cumhuriyet Anıtı (Republic Monument), which was built in 1928 and commemorates the formation of the Turkish Republic.

One of the prettiest and wealthiest neighborhoods of the city, situated along the Bosphorus, before going to the hotel.

High-end outlet mall for local specialty retailers like Vakko.

* * *

In IZMIR, visit the following places:

Admire the spectacular ancient sights of Ephesus, site of one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World" and a highlight of any visit to Turkey. Learn about the rich history and heritage as you walk through 2,000 year-old marble streets, the Great Theater, Library of Celsius and Hadrian's Temple. You will visit the Fountains of Trojan, Polio, The Temples of Hadrian and Domition, Private House, and the Library of Celsius.

Located on the top of the "Bulbul" mountain 9 km ahead of Ephesus, the shrine of Virgin Mary enjoys a marvelous atmosphere hidden in the green. It is the place where Mary may have spent her last days. Indeed, she may have come here with Saint John, who spent several years in the area to spread Christianity. The house is a typical Roman architectural example, entirely made of stones. In the 4th century AD, a church, combining her house and grave, was built. Paul VI was the first pope to visit this place in the 1960's. Later, in the 1980's, during his visit, Pope John-Paul II declared the Shrine of Virgin Mary has a pilgrimage place for Christians.

Pergamum, an ancient city dating before the 4th century BC, is home to the second largest library in the ancient world, the steepest Theatre of Anatolia, the monumental Altar of Zeus and the Roman Medical Center ruins of Asklepion, work site of the great physician, Galen. Pergamum is one of the finest archaeological sites in Turkey. The city was a great center of culture and the capital of East Roman Empire. Asklepion is where the world’s first psychological treatment was used.

Izmir's ancient agora was once a bustling Roman bazaar and today you can still see Colonnades of Corinthian columns, vaulted chambers and a reconstructed arch making it one of the best preserved agoras in the world.

This Ottoman town bazaar offers competitively-priced sumac carpets, water pipes, camel bone, and jewelry.


You will also have the option of doing the following:

Turkish dinner at KOSEBASI LEVENT

Kosebasi was voted as one of the "World's 50 Best Restaurants" by the 14,000 members of Conde Nast Traveler magazine and was awarded with the "International Tourism, Hotel and Catering Industries Prize" as the best representative of traditional Turkish cuisine. Kosebasi was also cited as "the best kebab restaurant in Istanbul" by Time Magazine.

Whirling Dervish Show and
Ottoman Imperial Dinner at ASITANE

The Whirling Dervish Show performed by the Mevlevis lasts for one hour. ASITANE Restaurant serves imperial Ottoman cuisine, resulting from intensive research undertaken at Istanbul's three famous palace kitchens (Dolmabahce Palace, Topkapi Palace and Edirne Palace) to test and recreate long-forgotten imperial dishes, whose recipes were traditionally kept secret. This is a restaurant for the serious culinary adventurer.


*Tips for driver and guide
*Drinks during meals
*Any additional orders at restaurants
*Any additional orders or services at hotels
*Visa fees
*1 Lunch during the free time in the Old City


What clothing should I bring?
The attire for the tour will be casual and comfortable, and there will be walking involved. Please bring comfortable clothing and walking shoes. In November, Turkey can be cool and occasionally rainy, so please bring overcoats or sweaters, and a raincoat and folding umbrella.

What will the meals be like?
Breakfast will almost always be buffet, with a choice of Turkish and Western food. Lunches and dinners included on the tour will usually be a three-course Turkish meal consisting of soup or salad, a main dish of meat or fish, and dessert. Turks eat a lot of grilled fish and meats, although no pork is served.

Why are there evening optional tours when dinner is already included in the tour package?
The optional tours are for participants who would like a more exclusive dining experience. These optional tours will be held at some of the best-known restaurants in Istanbul. In addition, we are offering a whirling dervish show on one evening, which is a performance that one should not miss.

What is the luggage allocation?
Each economy class passenger is entitled to 20 kgs, while business class passengers are entitled to 40 kgs. As Turkey is a great shopping destination, please pack sparingly on the way to Turkey to avoid overweight charges on the return flight.

Note: This scedule and the above arrangements are subject to change without prior notice.

For more information or to reserve a space in this once-in-a-lifetime tour, please contact:

Rachel Ramos
Tel. 813-8400/ 892-2620


Monday, August 16, 2010

Travelife Magazine's Malaysia Issue: Aug-Sep 2010

Our August-September anniversary issue is now on the newsstands, and it's a truly wonderful issue reflective of the "Truly Asia" setting of our cover: Kuala Lumpur. Beginning with our one-week trip to Malaysia with the entire Travelife editorial team on board, it was a very enjoyable issue to make, and we hope you have as much fun reading it as we had producing it.

As with our past issues, Managing Editor Jon Vicente, who is wonderful with witty phrases and never at a loss for words, best captures what's great about our new issue, so we're once again borrowing some of his copy -- which you'll find in his Managing Editor Note in the magazine.

Thanks and Sensibilities

This August-September issue marks Travelife Magazine’s third anniversary -- no small feat for a title in an industry where the annual issue is as much a milestone as a headstone. That we’ve lasted three years means that what we like to write about is probably what you like to read. Over the past three years, we've brought you information that provides great value – about the places you’ve seen, or want to see, the details that help you get there and get there in style. Within our core competency of travel, this is our way of showing you how much we value your patronage. There is of course a more direct way, and the third anniversary is as good a time as any to say it to you, our dear readers and advertisers. From all of us, thank you for being readers, friends and fans of Travelife Magazine and helping make us the Philippines' leading travel and lifestyle publication.

Our August-September issue features places where contrasting elements enrich the tourist’s experience with more significance than just “being there.”

Wonderful MALAYSIA

Our cover, shot on the Skybridge of Kuala Lumpur's iconic Petronas Towers, tells of a country that is becoming among ASEAN’s most significant tourist spots. In Visions of Kuala Lumpur, one finds the old and the new in proximity, and the feeling created by the proximity of historical landmarks and modern skyscrapers gets us wondering why it took us so long to visit. In May, the entire Travelife editorial team flew to KL and Penang to discover exactly what's so great about Malaysia. And we liked what we found so much that it took a lot of persuading for us not to re-book tickets back to Manila. It also helped that the wonderful ladies and gentlemen of Tourism Malaysia showed us just how much fun Malaysia can be -- they took us to favorite restaurants and gamely went along on our innumerable shopping excursions. We became fast friends and not a few of the editorial team are constantly on YM with them in KL even now.

Working with Zahnita

In KL, where we shot our cover, we had the pleasure and privilege of working with Zahnita Wilson, one of Malaysia's top models and a true pro in every sense. Needless to say, the guys on our team were won over by her beauty and charm. In fact, they were speechless when they weren't behind camera lenses, arranging backdrops, or carrying paraphernalia. Meanwhile, I really enjoyed talking with her over lunch -- she had smoked salmon while I had, well, everything delicious on the menu -- and in-between shoots. Zani, as we all called her, was forever smiling and she never even for a second showed a hint of fatigue in spite of the heat and the very long day. That alone was enough to impress, were it not for the fact that she also cleaned her house herself, looked after her toddler daughter and a cat, and was due for one more assignment that evening after our whole-day shoot. Yes, all of us were ready for room service and hot baths after being out the whole day, but Zani had about three minutes to rest and then it was off to a fashion show that would last till midnight. Our wonderful KL cover and inside fashion shoot was styled by Travelife Creative Director Dexter de Vera and shot by Travelife's photographer Brian Lim, with the assistance of Managing Editor Jon Vicente and Contributing Editor Buddy Cunanan.

Driving through TASMANIA

And speaking of contrasts, Travelife's Domestic Editor at Large Gabby Malvar, a former resident of Australia, provides us A Taste of Tasmania, exposing a vast and unexplored land whose quality of being simultaneously civilized and untamed provides the tourist with much that is unique and wonderful. Tasmania, known as the "island of inspiration," is the 26th largest island in the world with 37% of its land area taken up by natural reserves, national parks, and World Heritage sites. As Gabby will confirm, it's the perfect venue for a driving trip with two teenage daughters.

Bullfights in MADRID, sushi in TOKYO

In a moving piece called Tears at the Arena, Dheza Marie Aguilar writes about the bullfights in Madrid. Amidst a throng caught in the event’s bloodlust, her reaction stands out, leaving the reader with – at the very least – something to ponder. Meanwhile, global traveler and epicurean Jerome Velasco obtains an audience with Jiro Sukiyabashi, widely regarded as the world’s greatest sushi chef. This brief but intense encounter with world-class sushi makes for very enjoyable reading. Jerome, by the way, is an expert on Japanese food so when he writes about really good sushi, you can sure take his word for it.

Amazing, amazing CAPADOCCIA

At the back of the book, this month's Frequent Flier column features Float of Fancy, literally a high-flying tale about an amazing sunrise balloon ride where the rugged view of the Capadoccian landscape in Turkey is softened by the gently lilting flight of a balloon. The views and the uplifting experience are almost guaranteed to give you some kind of personal epiphany. Yes, we had a hard time waking up at an ungodly hour for the drive to the lift-off site sans breakfast; but this hot-air balloon ride at 6 AM was so worth it. I will never forget what I saw and felt for as long as I live. It's certainly one trip for anyone's bucket list.

Rafe takes on BARCELONA

For this issue, international designer Rafe Totengco, Travelife Magazine's Global Editor at Large, writes about the lively city of Barcelona, a mecca for designers and lovers of good food and the good life. Rafe recently traveled there with his best friend, the equally famous and talented New York-based designer Peter Som, and he diligently lists down for our readers all the fabulous sightseeing attractions, restaurants and shops that caught his sharp eyes. Don't leave for Barcelona without Rafe's guide.

A life changed through VIRTUAL TOURIST

Miko Liwanag, an endless adventurer and passionate heritage conservationist, and our regular columnist for Travel Light, writes a very personal piece about how the online travel website literally changed his life and opened up a whole new world of friends and destinations for him. Miko's not one for sentimentalism, as his friends will tell you, but this piece is one he wrote from a true traveler's heart.

This issue also seeks to acknowledge our male audience, which apparently comprises an equal share of our readers Creative Director Dexter de Vera gives our style pages a different spin. We hope this provides you with a mix and match guide to a dapper, sensible, look. Why should that matter? Well, if sepia prints of colonial adventurers or pictures of linen suited, suede-loafered men are any proof, traveling is as much about looking the part as playing it.

It is with your help that Travelife is stronger than before. Moving forward, we’re embarking on better and bigger things.


Better is in October, when Travelife Magazine, with Gawad Kalinga, The Peninsula Manila and Rustan's, holds the very first GK Hope Ball. The first event of its kind held by Gawad Kalinga, it will link sectors within the Philippines to achieve something even greater than community building: nation building.

Come fly with Travelife to TURKEY
Nov 13-20, 2010
Nov 17-24, 2010

Bigger comes in November, when Travelife heads to fabled Istanbul and Izmir on award-winning Turkish Airlines, in Turkey with some of you in tow. We're offering a once-in-a-lifetime one-week all-inclusive tour at a promotional price impossible to get elsewhere. Five-star hotels in central locations. All meals. All flights. Great tour guides. All the major sights covered. All tours and entrance fees. And, yes, enough shopping time -- or even time to putter around Istanbul's ancient alleys, if you so wish.

There will be two groups: Nov 13-20 and Nov 17-24, 2010. If you've always wanted to visit Turkey, do not miss this opportunity to get out of your world and dive into a civilization much older than Christ. We've been to Turkey five times and it never fails to blow our minds away. (The shopping is fantastic, too, by the way...)

And the last word, I'll leave to Managing Editor Jon: "After three years, what’s next? I can’t say for sure, because life and the burgeoning events conspire to hurl the future a historical curve ball. In the foreseeable future however, it will involve writing about more wondrous places, and things. We’ll see you right beside us when we do."